The Daily

Posts Tagged ‘family’

Justification

August 25, 2015 | by

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German students fencing in the 1820s.

The other day, I stopped to give myself a talking-to. I’m worried about you, I said sternly. Your constant outrage is not healthy, and all these self-righteous interventions with strangers are completely out of control. I didn’t want to be the one to say it, but you’re turning into your mother. 

I was appropriately horrified. I knew what angel-me was talking about: the time my mom slammed on the brakes to leap out of the car and accost the neighborhood kids whose snowball had sailed into the street. Or the time she yelled at a preteen for smoking on the sidewalk in front of the rec center. Or the time she lectured a car full of my classmates about their grammar. Read More »

California Street

July 24, 2015 | by

Learning to surf in the sixties.

Grajagan, Java, 1979. Courtesy of Mark Cordesius

For my eleventh birthday, my father took me to the Dave Sweet Surfboards shop on Olympic Boulevard, in Santa Monica. From the rack of used boards, I chose a solid, sunbrowned 9'0" with blue-green paneled rails and a fin built with at least eight different types of wood. It cost seventy dollars. I was five feet tall, weighed eighty pounds, and could not reach my arm around it. I carried it to the street on my head, feeling self-conscious and scared of dropping the board, but as happy as I had ever been.

It wasn’t an easy winter, trying to learn to surf. Even though the Beach Boys’ “Surfin’ USA” (“Let’s go surfin’ now / everybody’s learning how”) was on the radio, I was the only kid at my backwater school who had a board. We spent most weekends in Ventura, so I got in the water regularly, but California Street was rocky and the water was painfully cold. I got a wet suit, but it had short legs and no sleeves, and neoprene technology was still in its infancy. At best, the little wet suit took some of the sharpest chill off the afternoon wind. My father liked to tell a story about a day when I got discouraged. From the warmth of the car, he had been watching me flounder—I imagine him smoking his pipe, wearing a big fluffy fisherman’s sweater. I came in, my feet and knees bleeding, stumbling across the rocks, dropping my board, humiliated and exhausted. He told me to go back out and catch three more waves. I refused. He insisted. I could ride them on my knees if necessary, he said. I was furious. But I went back out and caught the waves, and in his version of the story, that was when I became a surfer. If he hadn’t made me go back out that day, I would have quit. He was sure of that. Read More »

Playmobil Fun Club

June 10, 2015 | by

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Photo: Merete Sanderhoff, from Vermeer and Dürer

Raise a tiny plastic goblet, please, to Playmobil’s founder Horst Brandstaetter, who has died at eighty-one. Brandstaetter, who was apparently known as “Herr Playmobil,” joined the family company in 1952, but it wasn’t until the seventies—and the oil crisis—that he was moved to come up with the cost-effective and efficient three-inch plastic figurines we know today. The first three—a knight, a construction worker, and a Native American—made their appearance in 1974, and the rest is toy history. Read More »

Haunting Houses: An Interview with Angela Flournoy

June 4, 2015 | by

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Photo © LaToya T. Duncan

In Detroit, the Turners have lived on Yarrow Street for generations, and now their home is worth a mere tenth of its mortgage. Oh, and it’s haunted—it’s been that way for fifty years, since Cha-Cha, the oldest son of Francis and Viola Turner, was attacked by a haint one summer night. Angela Flournoy’s debut novel, The Turner House, set primarily in 2008, tells the Turner clan’s story as they tend to the elderly Viola and decide what to do with the family home.

Flournoy hangs the family’s personal struggles on the political history of Detroit, tracing their move from Arkansas to the bright industrial promise of midcentury Motor City, the electric environment of the 1967 riots, and the city’s long decline. “Lelah,” an excerpt from the novel in the Spring 2015 issue of The Paris Review, focuses on the youngest Turner child, whose gambling addiction takes her to Motor City, where she loses the last of her money on a game of roulette.

I met Flournoy near the Review’s offices in north Chelsea. I was late, and Flournoy, elegantly dressed and having just arrived from Detroit, had already enjoyed most of her coffee and was patiently talking on her cell phone. We discussed ghosts, gambling, and the blend of personal and political in her novel.

Your novel is full of Detroit history. Did you hear stories about it from your family?

I did a lot of research. One thing I remember hearing of the ’67 riot is that nobody knew what it was while it happened. Nobody knows that today is going to be the day a riot starts. A lot of people in Detroit actually called it an uprising. So I would apply the facts I learned in my research to a character’s life. Imagine you’re getting off work, or you’re at work, and things just feel weird. Then you hear that something’s happening across town, but no one knows what to call this thing, because no one knows how big it is. It’s more difficult for the individual to frame what’s going on as a whole, what’s happening outside of the details in the personal life. Read More »

Dissolution

May 15, 2015 | by

Notes on becoming dust.

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Mihály Munkácsy, Dusty Country Road II, 1883.

Since he applied paint thickly, and then repeatedly scratched it off the canvas as his work proceeded, the floor was covered with a largely hardened and encrusted deposit of droppings, mixed with coal dust, several centimeters thick at the center and thinning out towards the outer edges, in places resembling the flow of lava. This, said Ferber, was the true product of his continuing endeavors and the most palpable proof of his failure. It had always been of the greatest importance to him, Ferber once remarked casually, that nothing should change at his place of work, that everything should remain as it was, as he had arranged it, and that nothing further should be added but the debris generated by painting and the dust that continuously fell and which, as he was coming to realize, he loved more than anything else in the world. He felt closer to dust, he said, than to light, air or water. There was nothing he found so unbearable as a well-dusted house, and he never felt more at home than in places where things remained undisturbed, muted under the grey, velvety sinter left when matter dissolved, little by little, into nothingness. —W. G. Sebald (trans. Michael Hulse), The Emigrants

Before my godfather and great-uncle Julio became dust, he was a troublemaking, cheating, charming man. When he was a teenager, he stole a closetful of my grandmother’s summer clothes, sold them, and spent the money on prostitutes. When I was three, he got into a gorilla suit and popped out at me, making me cry. Not long before he died, during our final game of Scrabble, he played the word enzapment and maintained that it was real. It’s like entrapment, he said, but with a zap. I acquiesced and tallied his fifty-plus points. When he died, his wife, Maria Cristina, had his body cremated and put into a basketball-size, biodegradable clamshell urn.

I’d be lying if I said casting his ashes was traumatic. The truth is, it was one of the most cathartic and satisfying experiences of my life. Read More »

20/20

March 9, 2015 | by

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The offending glasses.

My grandfather liked to talk about how much uglier Americans used to be. “People were ugly!” he would say with relish. “You have no idea now!” As children, we would always try to refute his claims, citing examples of modern celebrities we considered unattractive. But he would have none of it. “You don’t know,” he said darkly. To hear him tell it, the bit of Arkansas where he grew up was straight out of a Carson McCullers novel—which, I suppose, makes it sort of noteworthy that when a circus came to town, it was my grandfather who was considered such a dead ringer for the sideshow attraction Moe-Joe the Dog-Faced Boy that he bore this name for the rest of his life.

I don’t know if Grandpa Moe was thinking of improved dentistry, malnutrition, or various dermatological conditions; maybe a combination. I can’t help wondering if, also, some people just couldn’t see themselves, so they cared less. After all, regular, exact prescription updates are a modern luxury, too, to say nothing of contacts and laser surgeries. Read More »